Alternaworld Redux or World of Warcraft Ate My Wookie

I talked before about how I think the Internet represents the possibility for Alternaworlds -- worlds facilitated by social interaction on the Internet with their own rules and standards.

Well, this World of Warcraft business may be rapidly careening out of control, but it is beginning to fulfill most of the criterion for what I would call an alternaworld. MSNBC gives this rather late-to-the-party or Dad-has-just-discovered-how-the-mouse-works description:

In the physical world we vainly scrounge for glory. Bin Laden still taunts us, the bus doors close before we reach them and leave us standing in the rain. But in the fantasy realm of Azeroth, the virtual geography of World of Warcraft, the physical pain comes only from hitting a keyboard too hard, camaraderie is the norm and heroism is never far away. In simple terms, Warcraft is the most advanced and popular entry in a genre called Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMO. "I call it the Technicolor, Americanized version of 'Lord of the Rings'," says Chris Metzen, VP of creative development for the game's maker, Blizzard Software. But for millions it is more than a game--it's an escape, an obsession and a home.

Engaging in this orgy of sword-swiping, spell-casting and monster-slaying generally involves a $50 purchase of the software and a monthly $15 fee thereafter to play online. Players in Asia--a clear majority of the WOW population, despite the fact that the game was created by digital dudes in Irvine, Calif.--buy cards that allow them WOW time for a few cents an hour. Then there's the merchandising: T shirts, jackets, hats, a nondigital (!) board game. In China, 600 million Coke cans were festooned with WOW figures. There are seven novels based on Warcraft lore. And Blizzard recently inked a movie deal with the studio that produced "Superman Returns." Games-industry analyst David Cole estimates that Blizzard (part of Vivendi) has made more than $300 million from the game so far. Blizzard COO Paul Sams says only, "We are an incredibly profitable company."
What distinguishes Warcraft from previous blockbuster games is its immersive nature and compelling social dynamics. It's a rich, persistent alternative world, a medieval Matrix with lush graphics and even a seductive soundtrack (Blizzard has two full-time in-house composers). Blizzard improved on previous MMOs like Sony's Everquest by cleverly crafting its game so that newbies could build up characters at their own pace, shielded from predators who would casually "gank" them--while experienced players continually face more and more daunting challenges. The company mantra, says lead designer Rob Pardo, is "easy to learn, difficult to master." After months of play, when you reach the ultimate level (60), you join with other players for intricately planned raids on dungeons, or engage in massive rumbles against other guilds.

"Ninety percent of what I do is never finished--parenting, teaching, doing the laundry," says Elizabeth Lawley (Level 60, Troll Priest), a Rochester, N.Y., college professor. "In WOW, I can cross things off a list--I've finished a quest, I've reached a new level."

Actually, what got me thinking about this was an article at News@Nature where they talk about how the degree to which men and women look into one another's faces is different and is preserved in interactive video games:

Second Life is a virtual reality that now has some 660,000 residents. Users create a personal 'avatar' -- a representation of themselves -- and can wander around the apparent physical environment of this online world, encountering other avatars or objects. Residents have set up everything from museums to shops of virtual goods, such as digital furniture, which other users spend real money on. Universities have opened online campuses, and there has been a proliferation of virtual sex clubs.

With thousands of people using Second Life at any one time, Nick Yee and colleagues at Stanford University realised it presented a chance to assess whether users interacted in similar ways to people in the real world.

After using a computer program to monitor the behaviour of over 1,600 avatars in one-on-one interactions, they conclude that the answer is 'yes'. Male avatars (whether created by a man or a woman) stood further apart than female avatars, for instance, and were more likely to avert their gaze. And when an avatar gets within a few metres of another, the user reduces eye contact by moving their character to face slightly to the right or the left of the other 'person'.

"Social interactions in the online virtual environments such as Second Life are governed by the same social norms as social interactions in the physical world," Yee and colleagues conclude in a paper in press at CyberPsychology and Behaviour.

These kinds of things are interesting to me for a variety of reasons:

1) I think it is hilarious the kinds of alternaworlds people want to create. Who knew that Fred the checkout guy at Staples had a deep need to be a Druid Death Priestess?

2) These kinds of games are treasure troves for social scientists for exactly the reason discussed in the Nature article. Do standards for social interaction carry over into the digital world? Probably. When they do they allow us to study human behavior in a manner significantly more quantifiable than we could before.

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Not to sure what you are trying to say..I mean is it or is it not.

Anyhow I know I am rambling but try to see it from someone reading it the first time without thinking about it first.
Luwow Goldman

Not to sure what you are trying to say..I mean is it or is it not.

Anyhow I know I am rambling but try to see it from someone reading it the first time without thinking about it first.
Luwow Goldman>/a